I don’t know what got me craving Pastitsio recently. I was wandering the supermarket sort of aimlessly and came across the ground lamb and, poof!, Pastitsio popped into my head. Had to have it and had to have it tonight. Unfortunately, it’s not super quick to make but I made a commitment to my belly and I’m not one to break promises.
Pastitsio is sort of a Greek chili-mac with a creamy custardy topping. It’s comforting, filling and just a bit of a surprise with the various seasonings going on. Kind of reminiscent of a lasagna or a baked ziti but the cinnamon in the sauce really sets it apart. And the custard makes it decadently rich and, perhaps, not so forgiving to the waistline. But we can have a treat now and then, right?
This is not a quick weeknight meal as it involves preparing two sauces as well as some baking time. But it’s a great meal for a crowd and is guaranteed to please even the pickiest palates. Got a bunch of teenagers coming for dinner? Whip this up, make a big salad and a loaf of crusty bread and you’ll be a kitchen hero!
- 3 T extra virgin olive oil
- 1 C diced sweet onion (about one medium onion)
- 1 lb ground lamb (or you can use all beef if lamb isn’t readily available)
- 1 lb lean ground beef
- 1 C dry red wine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 T cinnamon
- 1 T dried oregano
- pinch of red pepper flakes (not quite 1/4 t)
- 3/4 lb small tubular pasta (macaroni, ziti, etc.)
- 1 stick (8 T) softened unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 C finely grated romano cheese, divided plus a little extra for the top
- 1/4 C all purpose flour
- 2 C whole milk
- 1 C half and half
- 1/4 t nutmeg, fresh grated if you can
- 1/2 t salt
- 1/2 t pepper
- 2 eggs, plus one yolk
- 1/4 C chopped Italian parsley for garnish, optional
Heat olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-10 minutes. Add in meat and break apart, cooking until completely brown. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add in wine and cook for a few minutes until alcohol smell has burned off. Stir in tomatoes, cinnamon, oregano and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced and slightly thickened, at least 30-45 minutes, but as much as a couple of hours. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Bring large pot of generously salted water to boil. Cook pasta about 4-5 minutes less than cooking instructions indicate. It will continue to cook in the oven and you don’t want mushy pasta. Drain well and allow to cool for a bit before tossing with 3 T butter, half of cheese and one beaten egg.
Meanwhile, melt 4 T butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes or until raw flour smell has cooked off. Slowly whisk in half and half and then milk. Simmer, whisking often, about 10 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and add in nutmeg and salt and pepper. You are going to add egg to this mixture so that it forms a custard but you must temper the egg to avoid scrambling it. In a small bowl, beat one egg and the egg yolk. While still beating the egg, mix in a spoonful of the hot cream sauce until it is completely incorporated. Keep adding sauce, a spoonful at a time until you have about 1 C of the egg/custard mixture. Slowly add this egg mixture back to the warm cream sauce. Mix in remaining cheese. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.
Butter a large deep 9×13 baking dish* with remaining 1 T butter. Arrange pasta mixture in bottom of dish. Spread meat sauce over the pasta, smoothing the top. Pour custard evenly over the top of the meat sauce and top with a bit of extra cheese.
You may want to put a big piece of foil on the oven rack underneath to catch any drips that may bubble over the top. Place casserole in oven and bake at 375F for 45-60 minutes or until browned on top. Allow to cool for at least 10-15 minute before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley, if desired.
*Yes, this does make enough to feed an army. I’d say to half the recipe but who am I kidding? Make the whole damn thing and pop the leftovers in the fridge. You’ll thank yourself (and me I hope) when you are too darn tired to cook later in the week and you just have to warm up the leftovers.
Or do what I did in this case: I made TWO smaller ones and gave one to my neighbor! And we both still had leftovers! I wrapped hers tightly in foil since she already had dinner plans for the night. She took it out of the fridge when she got home from work the next day. After about a half hour, she preheated the oven and baked it, covered, for 25 minutes and then uncovered for the remaining time. She called me over to have a look at it. It wasn’t quite as brown and souffle like on the top but it tasted absolutely fine. That said, I don’t think this will work as a freeze ahead meal but to bake the next day works somewhat okay.